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 DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos

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Jim
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PostSubject: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Sat Jun 25, 2011 11:04 am

Over time I'll be posting here on what I have experienced in using Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras for taking reference photos for paintings.   Hopefully others will add their experiences to this thread and we can build something useful for this specific kind of camera use.   First and foremost, I am not a photography expert.   Secondly, my experience relates to landscape photos and may not relate directly to reference photos for portraits, still life, etc.   (Hopefully others will fill in here.)   Third where specifics of cameras and lens are mentioned, the Nikon brand will be named because that is what I happen to use, not because I am advocating that brand.   I won't be dealing with point-and-shoot cameras.   Perhaps if people want to post on these it should be in a separate thread as they are significantly different.

I won't be posting many "gems", but I think this first tip qualifies as such.   You can learn a lot about photography by going to Thom Hogan's website http://www.bythom.com/.   While most of Thom's reviews are about Nikon, he has many articles that cover general areas.   Especially look under http://www.bythom.com/nikon.htm for the listings under Essays and Other Digital Articles.   I have learned a lot from this site.   I've got to run now, but will list those that I found most useful shortly.

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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Sat Jun 25, 2011 3:07 pm

Thanks Jim,

Do you also use the DSLR for photographing your finished paintings for high resolution prints? Right now I scan my painting at 150 resolution and then stitch together with Photoshop. This works really well, but is kind of a tedious method. I'm considering getting a DSLR camera so I'll be following this discussion closely.

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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Sat Jun 25, 2011 5:58 pm

Hi Judy;

Yes, I use a DSLR for photographing finished paintings.   I haven't used the digital images for making giclees, just for good quality images for submission to exhibitions, etc.   I think it would work though -especially from some of the higher-end DSLR's   I've been well satisfied with the prints from a HP Business Inkjet 2800 printer up to 8x10 on photo paper (it's not designed specifically for photo printing).  

I still go through Photoshop with the images, but only for straightening (if necessary) and for color correction to match the painting. Now that's a "fun" process Razz!!!

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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:41 pm

Cindy wanted to know what a Giclee is. I moved the discussion into it's own topic which can be seen at

http://watersolubleoils.forumotion.com/t679-what-is-a-giclee

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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:21 pm

Here is a list of photography articles on a number of subjects that may be helpful on Thom Hogan's site http://www.bythom.com/nikon.htm.   These are shown in their order of appearance under the headings.   What you choose to read and in what order is very much dependent upon where you are in photography and what your interests are.

Under ESSAYS
     Blame the Equipment
     Transitioning from Film to Digital
     Getting Better at Photography
     Are You a Collector or a Photographer
     It's not the Pixels
     Photographic Goals
     Should Do But Don't
     Shoot Less

Under TECHNIQUE ARTICLES
     All About VR (VR is Vibration Reduction)
     Top Photography Myths

Under OTHER DIGITAL ARTICLES
     Cleaning the Digital Sensor
     Histograms
     How Digital Cameras Work
     Sharpening 101
     Colorvision Spyder and Optical (calibrating your monitor)

I believe that Thom is spot on as to his photography advice and suggestions.   However, there are some different goals in using a camera for pure photography versus making reference photos for landscape painting.   I will make comments as to my views on how this affects things as we go along.   Got to do some non-art stuff (read not fun stuff) now Mad.
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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Tue Jun 28, 2011 4:01 pm

I'm looking forward to learning more about recording good images of my paintings. I am using a mid-range Canon camera, but it is not a DSLR and is rapidly becoming outdated.
It shoots at 8 mega pixels resolution, and even today's little point and shoot cameras will capture up to 16mpx. Time to upgrade, I guess.

My next assignment is to master white balance on the camera I have, so outdoor shots of my paintings can be their best possible.

There is a high end flatbed scanner where I work. I tried scanning a painting once, but didn't get a good result. The scan resolution was remarkable, but I noticed some sort of digital artifact, scan lines or something, and the colour needed work.


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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:30 am

A good site I can recommend for digital photography info is Luminous Landscape:
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/
Check out the essays and tutorials sections.

I tend to prefer Canons or Pentax, but Nikons are nice rugged cameras too. Each brand has a slightly different color register (inherent warmer or cooler tones) from its sensor and different menu management, but the differences are often subtle.

If your planning on making prints from your work I wouldn't recommend anything less than 10MP. Some new "point and shoot" fixed lens cameras now have larger image sensors and shoot RAW files so don't dismiss that as an option. You should be able to find a good DSLR for around $500 these days, maybe less on a used one.

Scanning is a good alternative; however, the work can't be too large, you have to wait for the paint to dry and not be sticky, and the surface has to lay flat to the glass. For small pieces I actually prefer scanning.
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Jim
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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Wed Jun 29, 2011 11:53 am

Thom Hogan has an article on printing here: http://www.bythom.com/printsizes.htm.   While it goes into lots of detail there is also a table that relates megapixels to print size.   The key is how big you want to print (and the maximum size paper your printer can handle).   Of course the definition of "poor", "good" and "excellent" for print quality is a subjective matter.   Thom's article at least provides some good guidance.

In short, if you only make 4" x 6" prints (and have no other use for your images), anything over 4mp is overkill.   However, I don't think this would apply to many of us Smile.   On the other hand, if you need to print the best quality possible at 24" x 36", you probably need to use a medium format camera (a very expensive camera Sad).   There are other considerations, obviously, and I'm sure we'll be getting into them here sooner or later.   I know one artist who has a computer and monitor set up beside their painting area and doesn't bother to make prints at all.  
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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Wed Jun 29, 2011 12:34 pm

CAMERA BRANDS AND LENSES:

When it comes to choosing a particular brand of DSLR camera one of the most important considerations is the lenses that are available for it.   From the consumer's point of view it is unfortunate that one brand of lens cannot be used on all brands of cameras, as the lens mounts vary from camera brand to brand.  

There are some lens makers that offer their lenses with mounts for a limited number of specific camera brands (lens makers such as Tamron, Sigma, etc.).   These lens makers usually provide mounts for most Canon and Nikon cameras and perhaps offer fewer choices for Pentax and Sony (there may be other brands too).   Of course the camera makers also supply their own lenses.   When starting off, it is sometimes difficult to know what lenses you will wish you had a few years down the road.   So without getting into specific brands, I feel that it would be a wise choice to go with a camera brand for which a wide selection of lenses is available (from the camera maker or from compatible lens makers).  

In my opinion, the availability of lenses is an even more important consideration than the number of pixels the camera has Shocked.   That's because at some point you may decide to move up to another (or additional) camera and it sure would be nice to be able to use your existing lens(es) on the new camera too Cool.

There are many artists that do get along very well with a single camera and lens.   However, this thread is oriented to those of us that may need more than one lens (and even more than one camera).
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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Fri Jul 01, 2011 12:41 pm

FX VERSUS DX FORMAT:

Another DSLR purchasing consideration is whether to go with an "FX" or "DX" camera format.   Note: the DX format is also referred to as the APS-C format (especially in Canon camera literature).   This is sort of like the old days of deciding the film size you want to use before shopping for the camera.   But today sensors replace film.   The FX format is analogous to the old 35mm film format.   As can be seen below, the FX size sensor covers a much larger area than does the DX sensor.   This has several important implications for the perspective DSLR purchaser.   By the way, not all camera makers produce cameras in both formats (DX is much more common).



For the landscape photographer one very significant implication has to do with the view coverage.   Let's say we are at 8,000 feet in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming and there are a couple of large, beautiful clouds just clearing the peaks.   This will make a nice painting (I hope).   In this case I had a DX format camera and I had to shoot multiple images to get it all in (and later put the images together).   Returning some time later with an FX camera and the same lens, I saw that the entire scene could have been captured on a single FX image.



Things start to get a little complicated here because some lenses are made for the DX format and some for the FX format.   The DX format lens doesn't cover a wide enough area to be used on an FX camera, even if the lens mount is compatible ("shadows" will show up in the corners of the FX image because the lens isn't gathering enough light to go there).   However, an FX lens will work fine on either an FX or DX camera body (again assuming compatible lens mounts).   Let's introduce more complications (more reality).

COST CONSIDERATIONS:

Generally for lenses with the same features, DX lenses are cheaper than FX.   This is because DX lenses don't have to gather light from as large an area (so are cheaper to manufacture).   Right now FX format cameras are larger, heavier and more costly than DX format cameras.   Maybe a solution for landscape photographers would be to go DX and buy an additional, very wide angle DX lens.   Unfortunately, the cost of lenses varies significantly over the range of wide angle, "normal" and telephoto lens.   The following graph is for "prime" (fixed focal length, non-zoom) FX lenses from one manufacturer.   Less expensive lines of lenses are available, but both fixed and zoom FX and DX lenses of similar quality still generally follow this type of cost curve.




THE DX "TELEPHOTO ADVANTAGE"

There is a perceived extra reach for lenses on DX cameras.   You hear statements such as "a 200mm lens is actually a 300mm lens on a DX camera".   Say you use the same FX fixed lens on both an FX and a DX camera, shoot the same subject and print the images at 12"x18".   Obviously the FX image will show a wider area.   You can cut out an 8"x12" portion of the FX image to exactly match the subject area covered by the print from the DX camera.   So lenses on a DX camera are acting as if they are 150% of their rated Focal Length (FL).

Lens FL     DX Perception
  35mm         52.5mm
  50mm         75mm
  90mm         120mm
 300mm        450mm
etc.

So why talk about "perceived extra reach"?   Telephoto lenses tend to flatten out a scene.   That is, the distance between a nearby hill and a far mountain seems to be less in photos taken with a large telephoto as opposed to what we consider to be a "normal" lens (to put it another way, the normal lens will give the closest approximation in two dimensions to what we see with our eyes).   This flattening only becomes really noticeable with very large telephotos.   It's okay to think of a 400mm lens as being a 600mm lens on a DX camera, just be aware that it doesn't flatten the way a 600mm lens would (which in most cases is probably a good thing).

Got to go mend some fences now (literally).   In the next post I'll give my take on FX and DX relative to pixels and how this may affect camera/lens choices.   As these are "my takes" other thoughts and views (and corrections) are certainly encouraged.
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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Mon Aug 01, 2011 11:12 am

PAINTING & PHOTOGRAPHY APPROACH

Some aspects of how one paints may affect the approach taken to making reference photos.   For those interested in making the most artistically appealing paintings possible, reality must take a back seat to pleasing the viewers eye.   Reference photos can be important for this type of painting, but the requirements are somewhat simpler than those necessary for paintings more grounded in reality.   In addition, to some extent it will be necessary to back away from some standard photography principals.  

As an example, for many years I took 35mm photos, projecting them on a screen for viewing.   When I finally turned to painting and started to use some of these as reference photos, two problems surfaced.

WIDE ANGLE PHOTOS:   First, most of my old photographs were taken so as to get a good arrangement of subject matter with the 35mm format.   To the extent possible I zoomed in so as to exclude "extraneous" parts of the view.   The goal was the best possible photos for a slide show.   When making a painting, a scene might better lend itself to a different format and that might mean including more foreground, more sky or more on one or both sides of the scene.   Of course, one can always fake it and just put something in.   Good artists can do this and make very successful paintings.   However, my style of painting is rooted a bit more in reality.   While I can and do change elements of a scene, I find this much easier to do if I have wide angle photos of it.   The more changes I might introduce into a painting, the more valuable those wide angle shots become.   Wide angle shots also help re-establish the sense of place associated with an area, which might affect how you re-arrange the scene.   This is especially helpful if it has been awhile since you visited the area.   Admittedly, many of those wide angle shots may lack much visual appeal and not be something that a professional photographer would take.   However, the lack of wide angle shots with many of my early photo sessions is a definite hindrance for landscape painting.

I'll save the second problem area for a subsequent post.
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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Mon Aug 01, 2011 11:06 pm

I've gotten to the point that I take a wide view which doesn't give much detail and then multiple closer photos of specific objects that I want to detail more precisely in the painting.

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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Thu Aug 04, 2011 12:02 pm

INTERESTING OBJECT/DETAIL PHOTOS:  

The lack of the specific object photos that Judy mentions above was the second problem area with my old 35mm slides.   These may include details within the targeted view as well as interesting objects in the vicinity, but outside of the targeted view.   The ideal is to photograph those "outside" objects with the same object-sun-camera relationship as that of the targeted scene (so they are photographed under similar lighting conditions).   That often means doing a bit of moving around.

For me, these detail photos often include one or more shots where the view is framed and focus is set on the foreground area.   This is especially helpful when the area of interest for a scene is in the middle ground or the distance.   Depending on the exposure settings, the foreground may be fairly blurred in the complete-scene photos.

An argument can be made that foreground-focused shots are entirely unnecessary, especially for those that simplify their paintings as is done with the plein aire style of painting.   The camera blurring the foreground is akin to "squinting" and at least somewhat simplifies that part of the scene for you.   It is entirely a personal-preference thing, but I prefer to work with a sharply focused foreground photo and apply my own style of simplification.

There does have to be a reasonable balance between cluttering up your computer hard drive with tons of detail shots, many of which may never be used, and years later roughing in a painting and realizing that you don't have a photo of what you would like to add to the scene for the painting.   With experience artists will come to their own comfortable compromise on this.   Your equipment will shape this compromise to some extent.   This will be touched on again under a posting on pixels (if I don't forget Laughing).
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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Fri Aug 05, 2011 8:53 am

Since I have been painting, using photos for reference, I have noticed that I often want to see a bigger area than what I have photographed.

In other words, I have been cropping too tightly for the eventual use of the photo. Now, I will compose the photo I want, then zoom out or walk backwards a bit to reframe the scene to give myself some cropping space.

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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Fri Aug 05, 2011 1:07 pm

Alan; I think it is very natural to take photos with the best looking arrangement of the scene in the viewfinder.   We strive for optimum composition in our paintings but need to strive for a different "view" of optimum with our camera Smile.   I still take that optimum photo composition shot as well as the wider and detail shots.   Thank goodness we don't have to deal with film and development costs!
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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Tue Aug 09, 2011 7:21 am

Jim, on the subject of cameras and painting, last weekend I was rereading one of my back issues of American Artist Workshop from 2006. I was flipping through it, and saw your photo credit in a sidebar. On further examination, I saw that you had taken other photos during a Wyoming Plein Air Workshop (Ed Mueller's workshop, if I have the name right?) and you appear on the front cover!!! Wow, very cool!

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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Tue Aug 09, 2011 4:03 pm

Jim, Your discussion has definitely inspired me to look at a new DSLR. AS I review different camera, I keep looking back here to see what they are talking about. I really appreciate the time you are taking to write all this.

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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Wed Aug 10, 2011 1:48 pm

Alan, yes it was a great workshop and really neat to get in the magazine.   For those who haven't seen the article, I should point out that Ned Mueller was the main personage on the cover.   I was the student in the background Laughing.

Judy, I'm glad you are getting something from this thread.   Following are a couple camera features I really like.   I'd like to see others join in and talk about their favorite features, without being too camera brand specific if possible.

IMPORTANT CAMERA FEATURES

AUTO FOCUS LOCK - Higher-end DSLR cameras have a trillion-gazillion features.   To me among the most beneficial of these is the capability to lock the camera focus on one area of view and then realign the composition without changing the camera's focus.

Typically on DSLR (and Point-And-Shoot) cameras the Shutter Release Button can be pressed partway to invoke the camera's auto exposure and auto focus features.   So we look through the viewfinder and compose our photo and then press the shutter button half-way, setting the focus and exposure. Then we press the button the rest of the way to take the picture.   If it is a simple camera or if advanced features haven't been invoked, the focus will be made on what appears in the center of the viewfinder.   Hmmm; when we compose a painting we generally don't want the main area of interest to be in the exact center of the canvas.   So when taking a photo, we may also want the sharpest focus to be on that area of interest, not on the object(s) appearing in the center of the viewfinder.

With an Auto Focus Lock button, the user centers the camera on the center of interest, and presses the Focus Lock button.   The camera retains that focus.   Then the user reorients the camera to the desired composition and presses the Shutter Release button part-way to invoke the auto-exposure and the rest of the way to take the picture.   Depending upon the camera and other features that may have been turned on, it may or may not be necessary to hold the Auto Focus Lock button down while pressing the Shutter Release Button.   While this may sound a little complicated, I was able to quickly adapt to doing this and it is now an automatic process for me.

Note: There may also be an Auto Exposure Lock button.   In addition there may be the capability to change where in the viewfinder the auto exposure and/or focusing takes place.   This is likely very brand and camera specific, so I probably won't get into this.

DIOPTER ADJUSTMENT - For those of us who wear glasses (or should wear them but don't), this simple little feature is a must have.   This provides some capability to adjust the viewfinder to match the user's eyesight.   Being able to clearly see what is in or out of focus in the viewfinder is critical.   And hey!!!   No more having to take the glasses off to take a picture.

I may add to this list of important features in the future.


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PostSubject: Re: DSLR Cameras for Reference Photos   Wed Aug 10, 2011 1:59 pm

Jim,
Thanks for reminding me about auto focus lock. I loved that feature on my old SLR but I haven't used that camera in years since the introduction of digital camera.

One feature I am looking for is a camera which had a full screen to see the image you are shooting and an eyepiece so that when it is too bright to see the screen, you can still see what you are shooting. There is nothing worse than guessing or trying to find a shady spot so you can see the image. I"m hoping that I find a DSLR with those two options .

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